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The Wild Goose Lake

A slow-burn Chinese thriller with occasional moments of excess.

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Director Diao Yinan, winner of the 2014 Berlinale Golden Bear for BLACK COAL, THIN ICE, returns to similar new-noir territory with THE WILD GOOSE LAKE. The film (which was in competition at Cannes in 2019) follows criminal Zhou Zenong in the aftermath of a job gone wrong. Hunted by police and rival gangsters alike, Zhou alternates between slinking through the shadows and hiding in plain sight in featureless cafes, accompanied by the mysterious Liu Aiai, a “bathing beauty” (i.e. beachside prostitute) who may or may not be working in his best interests.

Both leads (Hu Ge as Zhou and Kwai Lun-Mei as Liu) play their roles with understated elegance and intensity that heighten the moral ambiguity of their respective situations. Each is a criminal, but neither takes joy in it, and both characters possess a sort of “thieves’ honor” that is conspicuously lacking in the boorish and unscrupulous cops tasked with pursuing them. This moral ambiguity extends beyond the story’s cops-and-robbers core to encompass broader questions of class and economics: in their hunt for the fugitive, the police round up and question whole apartment buildings and work sites, essentially treating them as inherent accomplices to criminal activity.

Though its aesthetic is more dreary and realist than stylish or slick, the film is atmospheric in the extreme. Water – whether falling from the sky as torrential rain, running past roads in dirty channels that serve as escape routes, or acting as a makeshift brothel for beachside prostitutes – soaks the film from beginning to end. The heat and humidity of the film’s warm-season setting is palpable, particularly in a film where so much of the action takes place outdoors in settings ranging from night markets and food stalls to back alleys. There’s even a nighttime sequence in a zoo, with animals disinterestedly watching the unfolding action through the darkness.

Both the summer-beach setting and the overarching deadpan mood invite comparisons to Beat Takeshi’s SONATINE, another film that uses standard criminals-on-the-lam tropes to create scenes of Beckett-esque absurdity. Indeed, many of the film’s action sequences have a primitive feel, with frequent pauses in the action and occasionally awkward fight choreography. Ultimately, this shot-by-shot approach gives the film the distinct charm of something hand-built. It also contributes to the overall sense of tension: rather than being sleek and stylized, the film’s violence feels drawn-out and abject, making its occasional scenes of over-the-top brutality stand out even more. That THE WILD GOOSE LAKE manages to balance this fatalism and absurdity with the core humanity of its characters is especially praiseworthy.

John Peck

Credits

Original title: Nan fang che de ju hui
China 2019, 113 min
Language: Chinese
Genre: Drama
Director: Diao Yinan
Author: Diao Yinan
DOP: Dong Jingsong
Montage: Kong Jinlei
Distributor: eksystent distribution
Cast: Liao Fan, Huang Jue, Kwai Lun-Mei, Regina Wan
FSK: 16
Release: 27.08.2020

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Screenings

  • OV Original version
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English/with English subtitles
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The Wild Goose Lake

(Nan fang che de ju hui) | China 2019 | Drama | R: Diao Yinan | FSK: 16

A slow-burn Chinese thriller with occasional moments of excess.

Screenings

Friedrichshain

b-ware! ladenkino

Sunday 27.09.

TicketsBuy Tickets OmeU11:40

Wednesday 30.09.

TicketsBuy Tickets OmeU22:40

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